Guarding the Straits: The St. Helena Light Station

Guarding the Straits: The St. Helena Light Station

St. Helena Light Station as it looks today. Photo courtesy Craig Wilson.

Old Mackinac Point is just one of over a dozen light stations that helped guide sailors through the Straits of Mackinac. On a clear day, five of these stations can still be seen from the top of Old Mackinac Point’s tower. About eight miles to the northwest, in Lake Michigan, is the St. Helena light, which shared a great deal of history with Old Mackinac Point.

The island of St. Helena was home to a thriving fishing village for much of the 19th century. Steamships stopped at St. Helena to replenish their supply of wood for fuel, and sought shelter in the island’s natural harbor. However, dangerous shoals extend from the east and west ends of the island, imperiling vessels attempting to reach the safety of the harbor. To warn sailors of these dangers, Congress approved funding for a new light station on St. Helena in 1872, and the tower and keepers’ quarters were completed the next year. The station’s 3½-order Fresnel lens was lit for the first time in September 1873. Additional structures, including an oil house, wharf, and boat house, were added in the 1890s.   (more…)

The King’s Birthday

The King’s Birthday

A 1794 illustration of King George, complete with lyrics to “God Save the King.” The song was first published in 1744 and is today the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Courtesy Anne S.K. Brown Military Collections, Brown University Library

An annual highlight during the late 18th century, King George III’s birthday on June 4 provided British residents of Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of the British empire, an opportunity to celebrate in style. Every year, troops around the world fired special salutes to mark the King’s birth, and civilians and soldiers held parties to toast His Majesty’s health. (more…)

A New Season

A New Season

Site almost ready to begin excavation for the season

The end of May brings rain, flowers, insects, and archaeology. While next year will be the 60th anniversary of archaeology at Michilimackinac, this year is the 60th season. We will be back for our eleventh season of excavation at House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. Over the past eleven summers we have excavated the south wall, a root cellar, and chimney collapse, and found thousands of artifacts used by the fur traders who lived here. Highlights can be seen in previous blog posts, and include many types of ceramics, personal adornment items such as cufflinks, buttons and rings, an intact rosary, an intact pocket knife, and two shutter hinges. This summer we plan to excavate deeper in the cellar and expose more of the interior wall exposed last summer.

Nail, straight pin, and window glass recovered from slump

Over the past week, we have removed the straw and plastic that protected the site over the winter, re-established the grid strings we use to map the site, and cleaned up dirt that slumped from the wall of the excavation pit during the winter. Excavation will be taking place seven days a week, weather permitting, from June 5 through August 25. Admission to Colonial Michilimackinac includes the opportunity to watch history being discovered.

What’s Blooming at Historic Mill Creek?

What’s Blooming at Historic Mill Creek?

Yellow Lady Slipper

Yes, spring has arrived in the north woods, where an abundance of beautiful wildflowers are now covering the forest floor. At Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the Yellow Trout-lily are at their peak. The Marsh Marigold are in full bloom along the edge of the stream, while the Large-flowered Trillium and the smaller Nodding Trillium are starting to bloom. Even the beautiful Jack-in-the -Pulpit are making their appearance. (more…)

Jaw Harps

Jaw Harps

Jaw harps excavated at Michilimackinac

Some of the more interesting artifacts excavated semi-regularly by archaeologists at Michilimackinac are jaw harps. These small musical instruments, also known as a mouth harp or Jew’s harp (although they have no particular relation to Jewish people or Judaism), were common trade items at Michilimackinac in the 18th century. (more…)

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Archaeology Update: Winter Finds

Artifacts drying on trays in lab

Although excavation ended at Michilimackinac in August, archaeological research continues year-‘round. All of the artifacts recovered during the field season must be washed, labeled with a number identifying the context from which they came, identified, counted or weighed, and stored in the Petersen Center. All of the catalog information is entered into the ARGUS collections database. These steps all take time. Washing and labeling, which begins on rainy days in the summer, was completed in October.  Cataloging and data entry were completed in February, and storage in March. (more…)

Coming Soon to Old Mackinac Point

Coming Soon to Old Mackinac Point

Although the museums and historic sites are closed, winter is a busy time here at Mackinac State Historic Parks! One of many projects currently taking place is the installation of a new science and technology exhibit at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City. (more…)